CASS INDIA ANALYST
The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), currently being developed by HAL and DRDO in which Indian Air Force is a partner and a lone customer, should be given top priority for mass production and export. The LCA, which has taken enormous time and had undergone immense technological changes, is a potential platform for IAF. Therefore even if there are shortcomings and delays, the project should be taken to a logical conclusion. Right from the beginning the project was facing complications as India had all the parameters to make a fighter jet except a credible engine. Now this engine component should be seriously pursued so that the LCA can be a world class fighter in its own segment and truly indigenous.
The LCA which is now into production and already inducted into IAF has faced series of challenges right from its inception. After all the thorny journey now the new challenge is the LCA cannot go to mass production and salvage IAF’s depleting squadron strength. For that there is a growing clamour for importing foreign fighters to augment fighter strength of IAF to meet the growing air superiority challenge since a dual front scenario is fast emerging.
This sounds as if the war is going to happen tomorrow yet developing a fighter jet is not an easy task, even for a country like Russia and United States. Take the example of Russia’s MiG-35 project which is a non starter till today and the case of F-35 project which is perennially embroiled into production controversy. Both the countries have tremendous experience in developing a fighter jet yet they face considerable challenges.
For a country like India , which has only enjoyed 70 years of its independence and passed through many sanctions regime and certain isolation in the past, the LCA project should be considered as a beginning.
Within its class LCA, once it is fully integrated, can be the best. Right from its low radar signature to light weigh composite material, the LCA can beat even the best within its segment in any occasion.
Always between an air superiority fighter and a helicopter gunship as well as heavy bombers, there exists a gap which LCA can meet with its low altitude and high manoeuvre actions.
To enhance mass production the Ministry of Defence is unnecessarily burdening the HAL whereas the Indian government should encourage private production of LCA to meet IAF requirement so that India can have multiple line of production to bridge the gap of depleting fighter strength of IAF.
Apart from this the MoD should look for exporting the LCA 1 and its subsequent versions to increase the prospect of investment through its export earnings which can in turn fund the next generation of LCA or Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) so that the government does not fund entirely for a next generation fighter.
At the same time the Indian government should leverage its strategic relations and defence industrial cooperation from foreign vendors who are willing to contribute in its engine development initiative.
Once there is a credible engine in place then India has most of the parameters to go for a gully indigenous platform.
Even till then the massive import of GE engine can work as a backbone of LCA to meet most requirement of IAF.
If at this stage the MoD goes for importing fighters from foreign vendors then sooner or later the LCA will be dead, as it has happened in the past in many other projects.